And Apollo gave Sarpedon dead to be borne by swift companions, to Death and Sleep, twin brethren, who bore him through the air to Lycia, that broad and pleasant land
(Homer, Iliad, xvi)
‘How are you, old friend?' asked Morse with spurious cheerfulness.
'You once told me that we're all moving towards death – at the standard rate of twenty-four hours per diem.'
‘I was always accurate, Morse. Not very imaginative, agreed; at always accurate.'
‘You've still not told me how-'
'Somebody said… somebody said, "Nothing matters very much… and in the end nothing really matters at all’
'You always were a knowledgeable sod.' 'Dr Hobson rang-'
'Ah! The fair Laura. Don't know how men ever keep their hands off her.'
'Perhaps they don't.'
‘I was just thinnking of her just now… Still have any erotic day-dreams yourself, Morse?' "Most of the time.'
‘Be nice – be nice if she was thinking of me…’
‘You never know.'
Max smiled his awkward, melancholy smile, but his face looked and ashen-grey. 'You're right. Life's full of uncertainties, have I ever told you that before?'
'Many a time.'
‘I’ve always… I've always been interested in death, you know, of hobby of mine, really. Even when I was a lad…'
'I know. Look, Max, they said they'd only let me in to see you if-'
'No knickers – you know that?'
'Pardon? Pardon, Max?'
‘The bones, Morse!'
'What about the bones?'
'Do you believe in God?'
'Huh! Most of the bishops don't believe in God.'
'And you used to accuse me of never answering questions!'
Morse hesitated. Then he looked down at his old friend and answered him: 'No.'
Paradoxically perhaps, the police surgeon appeared comforted by the sincerity of the firm monosyllable; but his thoughts were now stuttering their way around a discontinuous circuit.
'You surprised, Morse?'
'You were, weren't you? Admit it!'
'The bones! Not a woman's bones, were they?'
Morse felt his heart pounding insistently somewhere – everywhere – in his body; felt the blood sinking down from his shoulders, past his heart, past his loins. Not a woman's bones – is that what Max had just said?
It had taken the hump-backed surgeon some considerable time to say his say; and feeling a tap on his shoulder, Morse turned to find Nurse Shelick standing behind him. 'Please!' her lips mouthed, as she looked anxiously down at the tired and intermittently closing eyes.
But before he left Morse leaned forward and whispered in the dying man's ear: 'I'll bring us a bottle of malt in the morning, Max, and we'll have a wee drop together, my old friend. So keep a hold on things – please keep a hold on things!… Just for me!'
It would have been a joy for Morse had he seen the transient gleam in Max's eyes. But the surgeon's face had turned away from him, towards the recently painted, pale-green wall of the GCU. And he seemed to be asleep.
Maximilian Theodore Siegfried de Bryn (his middle names a surprise even to his few friends) surrendered to an almost totally welcome weariness two hours after Chief Inspector Morse had left; and finally loosed his grip on the hooks just after three o'clock that morning. He had bequeathed his mortal remains to the Medical Research Foundation at the JRa. He had earnestly wished it so. And it would be done.
Many had known Max, even if few had understood his strange ways. And many were to feel a fleeting sadness at his death. But he had (as we have seen) a few friends only. And there was only one man who had wept silently when the call had been received in his office in Thames Valley Police HQ at Kidlington at 9 a.m. on Sunday, 19 July 1992.